If you're going to remake/rework a David Cronenberg movie then there's no point in taking on any of his outright classics. Any remake CAN work, if done right, but why would you give yourself such a monumental task? Choosing one of his relatively lesser works though, that might lead to some good results. And that is what The Soska Sisters (Jen and Sylvia) have done here, in a way. They've also tried to do something else, but I'll get to that later.
Laura Vandervoort is Rose, a young woman who hopes to be a fashion designer one day. She lacks the confidence to make any impact though, seemingly destined to be a hard-working doormat for the more dominant personalities all around her. Unfortunately, Rose is soon involved in a major accident that leaves her with horrific facial damage. Fortunately, she can be made even better than before with some breakthrough medical treatment. That treatment comes at a hell of a cost though, and it will start a chain reaction that leads to violence and chaos throughout the city.
Rabid isn't a bad film. It's a solid little horror movie, perhaps suffering slightly from some scenes that are played in a very simplistic way, and I think the pacing could have been tightened up a bit. These, however, are criticisms that could also be levelled at the original film. There are some good practical gore effects here, and the implication of one sick woman kicking off what could become a major pandemic, and those scenes help to make this more enjoyable (punctuated by moments in which people lose their will and lunch into a “rabid” attack on someone else in front of them).
Using the framework of the film to explore themes they have explored so well in previous films - the Soskas love showing women become empowered in a way that rightly unnerves men who used to dismiss/abuse them - and mixing in a number of references to other Cronenberg work, it is the attempt to mix in commentary that sadly holds this back a bit. Rose doesn’t feel like the right character to focus on, sadly, and her transformation would be better if she left behind the whole world of fashion, depicted here in a way that makes you question anyone involved in it. It's this approach to reframing the material that undermines it, creating an uncomfortable mix of visceral horror with misplaced reverence for the baggage brought along by the source material.
Alongside writer John Serge, the Soskas make the mistake of padding out what should remain a streamlined bit of nastiness. The character growth is hard to care about, because of the environment it is placed in, and the bigger picture is something we are only given a small look at, even if that is understandable when considering the budget and resources available to the makers of the film.
Vandervoort is a good lead, and she does well with everything asked of her, whether acting nervous and meek or turning into a hungry maneater. Other people who manage to stand out include Ted Atherton (named a bit too on the nose as Dr. William Burroughs), Mackenzie Gray (as Gunter, a top name in the fashion world that Rose is a part of), and Stephen McHattie (playing a doctor who has the bonus of being Stephen McHattie). Benjamin Hollingsworth, Hanneke Talbot, Stephen Huszer, and CM Punk are also involved, but I cannot say that any of them made any impression of me. In fact, I cared more about the nurse (played by Tristan Risk) who only appears in one main sequence than I cared about most of the main supporting characters.
Not half as bad as it could have been, Rabid is just slightly mishandled by people who try to expand an idea that arguably works best without any added complications. You can do this in a “down ‘n’ dirty” way, you can do it as a blood-soaked virus film on a grand scale. You just can’t succeed by trying to fit in the middle, and this tries to fit in the middle.
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